Cameron’s hot air on seagulls

It’s a problem that’s been going on for at least a century. Seagulls, seagulls and more seagulls in towns. In some places, such as St Ives, Cornwall, the local seagulls seem to have evolved to be particularly skilfull at nicking sandwiches out of “emmets'” tourists’ hands just as they leave the baker’s shop. They swoop from, apparently nowhere, and snatch food. Icecreams are a seagull speciality. The gulls know where the icecream shops are, they know which roofs to sit on, poised. They know exactly when to swoop to grab some poor unsuspecting child’s icecream. (And it is quite a frightening experience for the child and its parents).

The problem is that seagulls are a protected species. They tend to be reasonably protected from predators. Many attempts have been made to curb them in towns, but the problem rumbles on, year after year.

This year we’ve seen some highly publicised incidents of a tortoise, a terrier and a puppy being attacked by seagulls (as Patrick Barkham writes in the Guardian in a very sensible article).

As a result, BBC Radio Cornwall managed to corner David Cameron and ask him what he was going to do about it.

I feel sorry for Cameron. The history of government intervention in animal-related issues is not an illustrious one. He said he wanted a “big conversation” about seagulls.

A “big conversation”.

Well conversation is about all you are going to get from this government on the subject of seagulls.

In March, the coalition government set aside £250,000 for a study into urban scavenging seagulls. This was welcomed by Don Foster, who has long campaigned on the issue.

Surprise, surprise, without those pesky Liberal Democrats to keep an eye on them, the new Conservative government has cancelled the study.

So now all we have left is hot air. And a lot of swooping seagulls in towns.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Time for some blue sky thinking !

  • Jane Ann Liston 19th Aug '15 - 10:11am

    Seagulls are not a single species; there are several of them, all protected to some extent. Herring gulls (apparently endangered in world terms, albeit locally common) and black-headed gulls are the main ones causing problems in towns. It would help greatly were people not to leave waste food lying around which attracts them. Other species, such as common gulls, lesser black-backed gulls, greater black-backed gulls and kittiwakes, tend to stay away from urban areas.

  • Glenn Andrews 19th Aug '15 - 10:11am

    So as well as potholes we have seagulls – it’s a ground and air war next May.

  • The problem here, if there is one, is not seagulls. The problem is the eternal combination of whiners who think the rest of us should pay to have the world rearranged to suit their every whim and a state sector which can’t think of enough useful to do and relies on satisfying those whiners to justify its existence. Leave the seagulls alone. And let’s close a few of the government bodies (and cut the budgets of the councils) who had nothing better to do than this.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 19th Aug '15 - 11:01am

    I’m sure there was talk at one time of putting contraceptives in their food – in Aberdeen, I think.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 19th Aug '15 - 11:04am

    Chris, it might be a good idea to actually listen and acknowledge people’s experiences rather than just dismiss them as whiners. If local councils aren’t there to make the environment better for everyone, then I don’t know what they are for.

  • Caron – I’ve voted Liberal Democrat for as long as there’s been a Liberal Democrat party. I’ve been a Liberal Democrat canvasser and I’ve delivered an awful lot of leaflets. Yet I’ve never joined the party and probably never shall. Local government in Britain is incompetent and corrupt in a way that would embarrass any dictatorship in a developing country. It represents a tiny noisy clique and it inflicts their views on the rest of the population. Yet the Liberal Democrats are riddled with people who think local government is the be all and the end all of democratic representation. It’s the party’s great weakness.

    You’ve put your finger on it. If you really can’t think of anything better for local councils to do than interfere with seagulls (to call it ‘making the environment better’ is a mind blowing stretch of the imagination), then what on earth is local government for?

  • @ Chris………. Not sure how you can conflate the state sector with local government……is it some form of Orange Book disorder ? I’m not sure you’ll understand……….but how’s this for starters on what local government does ?

    I happen to know someone called Alistair McDougal (not his real name) ………… he’s 94 now and worked in a textile mill in Scotland for 50 years. He landed on the beaches in Normandy on D-Day in 1944 and still misses his pals who didn’t make it. Sadly, he’s now a widower and suffers from arthritis in his wrist and hip – occasionally he has a minor accident in bed…..but he’s fiercely proud. Independence is a struggle now though he still wants to live in his own home. Alistair’s medals are on the wall next to a wedding picture with his late wife.

    His local council – yes – the “incompetent corrupt one that would embarrass any dictatorship in a developing country” enables him to stay in his own home instead of going into a residential home. Three times a day he gets a visit from Mary (not her real name). She helps him to have a bath, washes his clothes, makes him a meal and keeps a log of every visit. She was there when he was discharged from hospital after an angina episode last year and helped to free up a hospital bed. Oh, and she checks his personal alarm is connected to the central emergency point provided by that same “corrupt local council”. Last year the “corrupt state” ambulance service blue lighted him to Edinburgh where I’m pleased to say he made a good recovery. The said local council later helped to provide an access seat to his bath when Mary helps him to bathe. To be honest… it’s getting more difficult for the “corrupt local council” to provide such “luxuries” because of cuts dedicated to reduce our dependency on the state as suggested by you.

    Now there are several Alistairs and lots of Joyces and Muriels all supported and cared for by that corrupt lot in Council HQ. I’m ashamed to admit that as an elected member I knew many of them as my constituents. Mary happens to be a friend of mine and helped me to have eyes and ears.

    Take my tip @ Chris…… if you implement your clearly well thought ought plans to get rid of local government and the state don’t bother living to an old age. It will be a cold,lonely, painful and unfriendly place…… though you can dream about delivering leaflets.

  • John Tilley 19th Aug '15 - 4:14pm

    “….In March, the coalition government set aside £250,000 for a study into urban scavenging seagulls.. ”

    £250,000 would be better spent removing the necessity for people to depend on Food Banks.
    Urban scavenging human beings are a higher priority than gulls.
    Maybe we should just cook and eat the gulls.

    BTW – Urban scavenging gulls are by definition not SEAgulls, they are just gulls.

  • Keith Browning 20th Aug '15 - 9:06am

    The main problem is that the seagulls are far more intelligent than either the tourists or the councillors. It would help if the tourists read the signs. This problem doesn’t occur over most of Europe because the indiginous population rarely eats food in the street, reserving that pastime for cafes and restaurants.

  • I don’t think seagulls are really that much of a problem. They are a minor nuisance at worst. A couple of few years back it was foxes attacking babies or something. Before that it was masonry bees and before that ladybirds. It’s an attempt to whip up some sort of man v nature b movie hysteria out of nothing very much, as if gulls were like mutant grizzly bears eating campers. Get it into to perspective . We’re talking about the odd lost chip, a bit of squawking and an absolute worse case scenario of a scratch. Rose bushes probably cause more injuries and rain probably ruins more chips. It ain’t exactly Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds

  • There’s always been gull attacks around here, I had an ice cream snatched out of my hand when I was 10 or so, that’s never happened to me since because I know where that’s likely to happen now. As Keith said, read the signs. Blaming the gulls is mostly a way to avoid any human culpability – I’ve seen plenty of tourists feeding them, usually in the sort of places gull attacks happen. I don’t believe these attacks are on the rise, only that some of the stories could be presented in such a way this year as to draw a lot more attention.

  • @ Ian Sanderson. Thank you Ian.

    I get completely brassed off when I read all this small state stuff increasing freedom. Real life needs a bit less of the Orange Book stuff and a bit more of John Donne.

    No man is an island
    Entire of itself
    Every man is a piece of the continent
    A part of the main
    If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less.
    As well as if a promontory were.
    As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
    Or of thine own were:
    Any man’s death diminishes me,
    Because I am involved in mankind,
    And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
    It tolls for thee.

  • Richard Underhill 20th Aug '15 - 1:06pm

    Just call them gulls, they interbreed and some of them are urban.
    Please also think about VAT on “restaurant” and “take-away” food.

  • Richard Underhill 20th Aug '15 - 1:08pm

    A mayor of london banned people from feeding birds in trafalgar square. it worked.

  • Richard Underhill 20th Aug '15 - 1:09pm
  • SIMON BANKS 20th Aug '15 - 8:31pm

    I’m so glad Jane put Paul right on describing “seagulls” as a species. There are seven species of gull breeding regularly in Britain and other which are regular visitors. The ones pictures are Black-headed, no problem to anyone unless you happen to trudge across moorland or dunes too close to their eggs. The reported problems all relate to Herring or Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Both are large birds. Both now breed in built-up areas, on roofs. LBBs are the commonest urban breeders and can be aggressive if people get too close to the nests, but as the typical nest site is a flat office or factory roof way above ground level, mostly there’s no problem except droppings. Herring Gulls are the main culprits for nicking sandwiches etc, though we should recognise that in rural upland areas visited by a lot of tourists or walkers, sandwich-nicking is done mainly by sheep, which can be quite aggressive. I was mugged by some in Wales. Attacks on small dogs etc by gulls are rare and mostly to protect the nest rather than for a change of diet. The problem for Cameron is that both the responsible species are declining in numbers in the UK, the Herring Gull sharply, so arguing that the problem has reached crisis level is a bit hard.

  • Richard Stallard 21st Aug '15 - 1:47am

    Landowners can now themselves obtain a licence to destroy the eggs and nests of Herring gulls on their property without having to deal with councils (who tend to dither and make a big deal of this sort of thing). It can be downloaded for free from Natural England and used instantly without the need to wait for a response. The landowner then simply informs NE what they’ve done couple of weeks afterwards.
    Whilst it won’t be any good for this year, if enough eggs and nests are destroyed in good time next year, we could see quite a substantial reduction in the problem.

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